Bryan messaged me this week and pointed out that it seems that every time it’s my turn to post, “something big happens on the internet.” Last month was Jeremy Lin and “Linsanity”, and this month, it seems we have a whole new subject matter regarding Joseph Kony. A Youtube video was posted by the Invisible Children organization (IC), which “uses film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in Central Africa to peace and prosperity.” As of 3/10/2012, this film has received 67 million+ views already!
This campaign and film was meant to make “Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.” I think this is a creative way to raise awareness and knowledge to the cause and to bring accountability to those responsible for the atrocities that have occurred. At the same time, quite a few media sources have also begun to level criticism and responses towards IC for this method and approach; we have those that support and those that are against this approach due to the tone and perhaps the specificity of the cause. Ultimately, I think IC has done a great job and has creatively taken a step towards raising awareness for a subject often neglected. What leads me to write today though is NOT because I am trying to sway you towards supporting IC in its pursuit for KONY or not, but is a challenge towards the Christian in how they are processing IC’s campaign, and how we deal with such social justice causes in general. The question, I want to ask is what is the reasons from which you desire to support or act with IC in its fight for Kony, and how have you reconciled this thought in your own theology and life in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
How does God’s justice, and God’s call come into play… especially for you, the Christ-follower in how you will approach and live out your life in such matters such as the poor, the oppressed, human trafficking, rape, abuse (of any sort), and justice for murderers/traffickers/tyrants/despots. I took a class a few years ago at my seminary and my teacher shared about this dilemma that continues today regarding the Christian and how we deal with our culture and the social issues and problems that may come before us; there is a complicated interaction of both Christ & culture. Similarly, you could say that this question is more than important because how you deal with social justice (which is very trendy to our generation) has ties to the deepest roots of our personal understanding of Jesus Christ and the major motivator as to how we will live out our faith in this world. So why do you do what you do?
My teacher from that class taught us about Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a theologian, Pastor, teacher) and how he posed this question during the raise of Hitler in Germany regarding one’s faith and the call to action. Bonhoeffer’s problems arose as he was made aware of the troubling actions of the German church and their being influenced by the Hitler supporters in the church. Hitler’s supporters begin to teach and lead the church in a way that was creating much blindness to the oppression of the Jews and was manipulating and misleading folks to believe what Hitler was doing was okay both in real life and in connection with the Bible. It was a very scary and dark time as Bonhoeffer and many German Christians begin to address this danger and to raise awareness. They were faced with a dilemma because how much involvement does the church have with the state, but what happens when the state starts to infringe upon the church’s ability to preach the Gospel faithfully?
Bonhoeffer then listed three possible ways that the church could respond in light of these circumstances. Let me summarize what Bonhoeffer came to realize for himself and how it relates to us… as Christians we have 3 choices: 1. We can simply protest and raise issue. 2. We can physically help those victims by offering support and care. 3. We can take the extreme step and engage in actions to stop the wrong.
As a well-known teacher/preacher/pastor/leader, Bonhoeffer mobilized many Christian supporters into the Confessing Church which stood as a contrast to the Hitler controlled state church; the Confessing Church would protest and continue to disobey Hitler’ oppression and control of the German church. Bonhoeffer, due to his family connections into the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence), was aware of Hitler’s concentration camps and the murdering of Jews and other people. As a result, he got involved with those in the German group that failed in the Stauffenberg plot to kill Hitler (i.e. Valkyrie movie w/Tom Cruise). Bonhoeffer was arrested due to his ties with this attempt and executed a few months before the end of World War Two. But what would lead a man of God to take social action and to even plot a murder to stop Hitler and to stick that spoke in the wheel?!
This is the paradox of Christians and our faith and is important because I see so many people jumping on the bandwagon for causes and yet have not fully developed a CONSISTENT understanding to their actions; they do NOT know how this fits in the big picture! Bonhoeffer knew what he was doing and why he did it and it was revealed through his martyred life. What would you do in case of Bonhoeffer? How far would you go? What will you do with social justice issues like this of Kony and child soldiers? This is where I believe that our understanding of action towards Kony may be flawed. Though we are raising awareness and there may be persecution (the US and other countries have actively hunted him over the years to little success), there is very little that truly changes in our lives if we are unwilling to develop a foundation of thought as to our own motivations! By not doing so, we leave ourselves exposed to following causes for moments and not settling on a constant, faithful mindset to act and live out our faith. This is where I believe the Gospel changes our perspective and how we must reconcile the relationship between Christ and our culture and how much we are to engage (if we are to engage at all), and what are the elements to which we do engage.
Let me share Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on this:
“If we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ’s large –heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. The Christian is called to sympathy and action, not in the first place by his own sufferings, but by the sufferings of his brethren, or whose sake Christ suffered.”
Bonhoeffer continues this thought by sharing this confidence in God’s future fulfilled promise through the return of Jesus that it:
“requires faith, and may God grant it to us daily. I don’t mean the faith that flees the world, but the faith that endures in the world and loves and remains true to the world in spite of all the hardships it brings us. Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too.”
Ultimately, Bonhoeffer’s belief tied his Christian faith to a life that needed to be lived out in this world, and that as Christians, we are to act on our beliefs with a foundation in the Gospel and in the promise of His return.
Bonhoeffer hits on this main point which I want to end with today.
“’All things appear as in a distorted mirror… if they are not seen and recognized in God.’ So God is not merely a religious concept or religious reality. God is the one who invited reality, and reality can only be seen truly as it exists in God. Nothing that exists is outside his realm. So there are no ethics apart from doing God’s will, and God – indeed, Jesus Christ – is the nonnegotiable given in the equation of human ethics: In Jesus Christ the reality of God has entered into the reality of this world. The place where the questions about the reality of God and about the reality of the world are answered at the same time is characterized solely by the name: Jesus Christ… All concepts of reality that ignore Jesus Christ are abstractions. As long as Christ and the world are conceived as two realms bumping against and repelling each other, we are left with only the following options. Giving up on reality as a whole, either we place ourselves in one of the two realms, wanting Christ without the world or the world without Christ – and in both cases we deceive ourselves…. There are not two realities, but only one reality, and that is God’s reality revealed in Christ in the reality of the world. Partaking in Christ, we stand at the same time in the reality of God and in the reality of the world. The reality of Christ embraces the reality of the world itself. The world has no reality of its own independent of God’s revelation in Christ.”
In order to affect change, don’t buy into the hype of one event. Kony is one important and dark story that needs to be told, but never forget that there are millions of stories out there where there is pain and suffering. Child Soldiers are NOT just in Africa, but even consider Myanmar, who may have over 100,000 child soldiers within its borders (making it the largest concentration of child soldiers in a country in the world. There are so many different issues that lead to such forms of oppression such as poverty, ethnic wars, and drug trafficking. By considering the millions of factors and reasons that are leading to such pain, it is quickly easy to be discouraged, and to ask the question of what’s the point!? Is there any hope? This is why one must start with God and a healthy understanding of the Gospel and how it applies into our lives and how we are to live things out. If we are to simply face each circumstance, we are quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of needs, pain and suffering. It is only through Jesus Christ that we begin to see that there is hope because God never meant for this world to be this way; it is through Jesus Christ that God has inserted a hope and a promise of true justice in the future that will happen.
How will you face the next story of pain and suffering? What will you do to apply your understanding of the Gospel into affecting change in this world? Will you see the big picture of what God is doing and see that ultimate hope through Jesus Christ? In the end, I’m not writing against IC’s efforts with the KONY 2012 video. I am simply adding to your understanding the need to see the big picture in the Gospel. May this post help to shape all your future endeavors of “social justice” as it helped Bonhoeffer to personally respond to Hitler in Germany.
 Metaxas, Eric, “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy”, p. 447.
 Emert, Ashley, “Seeing the Whole Picture”, Reject Apathy: a supplement to Relevant Magazine, Issue. No. 2, p. 21.